Southern Federal Union – 29 April 1862
“Fight on the Pasquotank river, N.C. – Third Georgia Regiment Engaged.”
Norfolk, Va., April 20. – A large Federal force, supposed to be about 5,000 strong, landed on the Pasquotank river, in Camden county, and near Elizabeth City, N.C., yesterday, and were attacked by Col. A.R. Wright, Third Georgia Regiment and Capt. Ferebee’s Militia Company, at 1 o’clock P.M. Our small force fought with great bravery. The Federal loss was heavy; that of the Confederates was 6 killed, including Captain McComas; of Henningsen’s Battery, Wise Legion, and Lieut. Wilson of the Third Georgia Regiment; 16 wounded, and missing. The battle continued for five hours. Col. Wright retired from the field at midnight and fell back to the Halfway House on the Dismal Swamp Canal, a very strong position, where he has been reinforced.
Our wounded have arrived here, and been placed in the hospitals. Most of them are slightly wounded.
The body of Capt. McComas also arrived here.
Southern Federal Union – 29 April 1862
“3rd Georgia Regiment”
This splendid Regiment has met the enemy a second time. On the first occasion, the officers and men distinguished themselves; and in this late combat near Elizabeth City, N.C. against great odds, made a good fight. “Our Ranse” is bearing himself finely; and if his life is spared, we predict for him a career of honor and usefulness. Those who are intimate with his Regiment and have watched Col. Wright closely, say that he is not surpassed by any officer in the service, who had not a military education. We hope that the 3rd Georgia Regiment will preserve its present organization, for it seems a pity to spoil so fine a body of troops.
Southern Federal Union – 29 April 1862
“The Battle of Sawyer’s Mills – The 3rd Georgia Regiment”
We have been kindly furnished by a friend with the following interesting account of the gallant affair with the enemy. It is written by an officer, who participated in the fight, and addressed to his wife. The Georgia boys, under Col. Wright, covered themselves with glory.
South Mills, N.C., April 25th, 1862.
Dear -----------: As promised, I will now give you a description of the battle of Sawyer’s Lane, three miles below South Mills, on Saturday, the 19th inst.
During the forenoon of Friday, 18th, a dispatch from Major Lee, from Elizabeth City, reached Col. Reid at South Mills, “that the Yankees had appeared off Elizabeth City in force and would undoubtedly attack us.”
The dispatch was sent forward to Portsmouth, to Col. Wright. Col. Wright came immediately to South Mills, arriving about 8 o’clock in the evening. Col. Reid was sent towards Elizabeth City at once, to cause the companies stationed near them to fall back, in supporting distance of the companies here, should the advance of the enemy be by Camden Court House.
Early Saturday morning the news reached us, that the Federals were advancing by way of Camden Court House. The two companies stationed at South Mills, (C, Capt. McWhorter and D, Capt. Andrews,) were marched towards Camden Court House. Company L, Capt. Herndon, who was stationed at the River bridge, 1½ miles below South Mills, joined us 3 miles below South Mills, at which place Col. Wright determined to make a stand. These three companies mustered 160 men. We had with us, Capt. McComas’ company (4 pieces) of artillery.
The Artillery was placed at the entrance to Sawyer’s Lane,covered by thick trees and undergrowth. On the right side of the Artillery, Company D, Capt. Andrews was deployed, behind a fence in the edge of the woods. On the right of Company D, Capt. McWhorter, Company C, was deployed. On the left of the Artillery Captain Herndon, Company L, was deployed, behind a fence in the edge of the woods. By the time these three companies were placed in position Company A, Capt. Musgrove, and B, Capt. Nisbet, reached the field, and were deployed on the left. Our entire front occupied the edge of a woods, less than a quarter mile in extent, protected by a fence. In front of us, for half a mile, I judge, in any direction were open corn fields, or small farms, through which ran innumerable fences and ditches. These fields or farms were environed by thick woods or swamps. Preparatory to the battle Col. Wright had us tear down the fences, throwing some of the rails across the road to prevent the advance of Cavalry or Artillery; throwing many of the rails into the ditches to prevent the enemy from occupying them as rifle pits. Two farm houses that were near our line of battle, were burned to the ground that the enemy might not be sheltered by them. These preparations, and the disposition of our troops as well as the wise selection of the ground, evidenced great generalship in Col. Wright.
The remaining five companies of our regiment were held in reserve under Col. Reid and Major Lee. While preparing for action, the Cavalry Company, Capt. Gillette, who were on picket duty at this point, were sent forward to recononitre. They returned reporting the enemy 1½ miles off, steadily advancing.
At 11½ o’clock the column of the enemy appeared in sight, and our Artillery opened upon them, to which they readily responded. The fight continued for about three hours with Artillery before they came in musket range. This they eventually did, when we opened with musketry and continued the fight till nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. When the musketry fight was about half over, Col. Wright ordered Col. Reid to bring Company G, under command of 1st Lieut. C. Snead, into action to support our left wing which was done gallantly with loud huzzahs from our brave boys. The enemy attacked us more heavily on the left, and soon after the musketry opened, Co. D, was ordered from its position on the right, to support of the left wing; and were placed with the right of the company resting upon the road and Artillery – subject alike to the fire of the entire line of musketry and the enemy’s artillery. When the musketry commenced, our entire line were thrown into a small ditch, outside the fence, which served as a rifle pit. The enemy were deployed across our entire front, sheltered as they could by ditches, trees, and fences – and were in the woods on our right and left. The 9th New York Zouaves formed in the center of the field, some three hundred yards from our lines, to charge our battery of Artillery. As they charged our entire line and Artillery opened upon them and they were checked before they advanced twenty steps, scattering them in every direction.
From the greatly superior numbers of the Federals, they were enabled to flank us right and left. When it was discovered that they were flanking us, we were ordered to fall back to our entrenchments near South Mills, which we did under cover of our reserve under Col. Reid and Major Lee. The forces that contended against us were the 9th and 89th N.Y. Regiments, the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment, the 21st Massachusetts Regiment, the 6th and 26th New Hampshire Regiments, under command of Brig. Gen. Reno.
Knowing the numbers of the enemy, Col. Wright sent to Gen. Blanchard four times during the day for reinforcements and ammunition. To these dispatches, at 9 o’clock at night, Col. Wright had received no reply. The commanding officers were called to a Council of War, and they determined, because of the numbers of the enemy and our own small numbers, , the scarcity of ammunition, and the prospect of not being reinforced, with the knowledge that they could flank us easily, while engaging us in front, to fall back till we received reinforcements and ammunition, or dispatch from Gen. Blanchard promising such.
During the night through mud and rain we fell back. During Saturday night and Sunday we received reinforcements, and immediately returned to this place, and the scene of conflict.
As soon as the fight was over, the Yankees commenced carrying their wounded and killed to their Gunboats, and during the night made safe their own retreat; leaving the wounded and dead of our Regiment that had fallen into their hands upon the field, with a Surgeon and four nurses who fell into our hands.
Our loss was small. Capt. McComas of the Artillery was killed. Two men from Company G were killed; one from Company B; one from Company L; one of Company F, who belonged to the band, but who was fighting in the line with Company D. There were 17 wounded, most of them very slightly. Many of the boys had balls put through their clothing and caps. Lieut. Wilson of Company C, was wounded in the knee and fell into the hands of the enemy, but was recaptured by us. The Yankees left from 60 to 80 of their dead, buried upon the field. We have no way of estimating their loss in wounded; but from what the prisoners say, judge that it must be very great. We have a number of them as prisoners, and are still bringing them in. We captured 1,500 lbs. of powder, which was brought along, no doubt, to blow up the locks on this canal; with a quantity of fixed ammunition, arms, equipments, &c.
I don’t suppose that there has been a battle during the war where we had to contend against such odds and did it so successfully. It is strange to think of 314 men, all that we had in the fight besides the Artillery, keeping six of the best Yankee Regiments in check for five hours; and whipping them so badly that they had to seek their Gunboats under cover of night, leaving many of their wounded, many arms and equipments, and much ammunition to fall into our hands.
The boys fought gallantly and as coolly as if they had been the heroes of a hundred battles. They are in fine spirits; and retired from the field that afternoon with reluctance, but their confidence in Col. Wright made them obey promptly all orders.
We are well pleased with our late success, and are gratified that our conduct has met the full approval of our commanders. Gen. Huger, in a dispatch on Monday, said: “The Georgians have covered themselves in glory.”